16 Dec 2022 10:34 AM GMT
The Calcutta High Court has recently held that the school vaccine mandate for teachers doesn't violate the right to profess and practice the religion of one's choice. The bench of Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya observed thus while dismissing a writ plea filed by a Christian man working as an Assistant Teacher in St. James' School, Kolkata seeking a direction to school management to permit him...
The Calcutta High Court has recently held that the school vaccine mandate for teachers doesn't violate the right to profess and practice the religion of one's choice.
The bench of Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya observed thus while dismissing a writ plea filed by a Christian man working as an Assistant Teacher in St. James' School, Kolkata seeking a direction to school management to permit him to continue teaching work without making COVID vaccination a condition precedent.
The case in brief
The petitioner/teacher had moved the High Court being aggrieved by a Notice issued by his School asking the staff to submit their COVID Vaccination Certificates, failing which the staff would be considered on leave without pay.
Essentially, the petitioner chose not to get vaccinated on the ground that the clinical trials as documented in journals show that the Covishield vaccine had experimented on fetuses (or foeti), which according to the petitioner, is against Christian beliefs.
Regarding Covaxin, since he was unsure of the methods employed in the clinical trials for it, thus, being resistant (ideologically) to any form of forced vaccination, he chose not to take even COVAXIN.
Now, since he did not submit her COVID Vaccination certificate, his entry to the school premises was barred. The school administration also decided to stop his salary and not be permitted to carry on with his teaching commitments.
Challenging the notice pursuant to which his entry was barred, he moved the High Court. Before the Court, though he urged violation of his rights under Articles 21 and 25(1) of the Constitution of India, the relief prayed for was essentially for disbursement of salary.
In essence, the petitioner simply sought enforcement of his contract of service with the School and to circumvent the embargo by continuing with his services as an Assistant Teacher (on the ground of not being vaccinated against Covid-19).
At the outset, the School Administration raised a point against the maintainability of the writ petition by submitting that since the school is a private unaided school, therefore, a writ won't lie against it.
High Court's observations
Having taken into account the submissions of the counsels for both the parties, the Court, at the outset observed that the impugned notice of the school- requiring teachers and staff to submit their Vaccination Certificates to the School - does not impinge either upon the personal liberty of the petitioner or his right to profess and practice the religion of his choice.
The Court also stressed that there is a total absence of confirmed medical data before the Court for forming an opinion that the Covishield vaccine has been developed through trials that offend the Christian faith. In this regard, the Court also noted that a writ court was not vested with the jurisdiction or the expertise to assess a large body of scientific evidence – even if produced – to draw a conclusion on the alleged un-Christian trials for developing a vaccine
Significantly, the Court further underscored that the petitioner's right to remain un-vaccinated had to be balanced with the right of the children and other teachers and staff of the School to be protected against the Covid-19 pandemic.
"...the larger public element is in fact the safety of the students, teachers, and staff of the School who will perpetually be exposed to the petitioner if the pandemic makes a resurgence in the near future. This Court is also alive to the fact, that simply declaring that the administration of Covid- 19 vaccines as not being mandatory where personal/religious tenets interdicts the use of a vaccine will not afford the relief that the petitioner is looking for [prayer (a)]. Permitting the petitioner to continue with his teaching duties is what the petitioner really wants," the Court remarked as it noted that the petitioner had been filed purely for personal cause seeking monetary relief.
Importantly, the Court also questioned the petitioner's failure to opt for other available vaccines (apart from Covishield), as required by the School.
Now, regarding the maintainability of the writ plea against the school, the Court held that the instant writ petition against a private unaided institution / School was not maintainable since the right sought to be enforced by the petitioner was purely of a private contractual character. With this, the writ petitioner was dismissed.
Case title - DR. NIRJHAR BAR VS. UNION OF INDIA AND ORS
Case Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Cal) 366
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